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The story of Will Woodruff, part two

by Nancy Christofferson
LA VETA — William Hibben Woodruff had lived in La Veta for some 26 years by the time he completed construction of three Main Street business buildings. He was 44 years old, and while he seemed to be prospering with his real estate holdings and growing family, his wife, the former Ella May Arnold, was in frail health. Besides her rheumatism, Ella was suffering with an unknown ailment that forced the family to make a hard decision.
Doctors thought she would benefit from a lower climate. After exploring several sites along the California coast, where W.H.’s sister Lida Martin and family lived in Oceanside, Eugene, Oregon was chosen as her destination. She may have had relatives there.
According to family lore, W.H. sold out all his holdings in La Veta and moved west with his family and bought a farm. Whether or not this is true, Ella remained in Oregon with three of her sons and died on Christmas Day 1916. She was buried in Oregon. She was 45 years old. W.H. sold his farm near Eugene and returned to La Veta with his three sons. By the time of their mother’s death, Velma was married and W.H. and Ella’s oldest son, William Ray, had stayed in La Veta where he was employed at the roundhouse by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad.
By this time Will had sold his Main Street stone buildings in La Veta. He had built a “beautiful” home in Block 73, three blocks east of Main, which shared premises with a large orchard (this may be the house that burned down in 1972). Through the years he had owned several other homes around town and these, too, had been sold, including a brick one at Poplar and Francisco he sold to A.A. Foote. W.H. also handled real estate deals for others as well as selling insurance. He had served as town trustee and on the school board. He had held offices in the Woodmen of the World and Masonic Lodge. He was a staunch Republican but didn’t bother people about it. He was replaced as postmaster in 1912 by R.V. Cutler after having the position for 14 years.
A man without a job in 1917 in Huerfano County looked naturally to the coal companies for employment, and W.H. went to work for one of the supply stores. He lived in several coal camps, plus Gardner, through the next few years.
Somewhere along his way, he met a widow, Kate Elizabeth Keener Kessler, whose husband, it was said, was killed in the hostilities during the 1913-1914 coal strike, probably in Las Animas County. Kate had been left with two daughters, and had been hired as a school teacher by several districts including some in the coal camps. In later years these were remembered as Camp Shumway, Big Four, Solar (where W.H. worked in the store at nearby Niggerhead), Walsen, Farr, Maitland, Morning Glory, Pictou and Mutual. She also taught in the one-room rural schoolhouses at St. Mary’s community, Apache and Cucharas. She recalled she sometimes had as many as 75 students in those one-room schools.
W.H. and Kate married in 1917 and had one son, Harold Delmar, on March 26, 1919, while they were living in Solar. There Kate was assistant postmaster and W.H. manager of the store. Their union, however, was not a happy one, and the couple separated (some family members say divorced).
While his older children were on their own by this time (the three oldest boys had served in World War I, despite Olin’s being just 16 at the time of his enlistment), W.H. was still raising his son Lynn, nine years old at the time of his father’s second marriage. Velma had remained in Oregon. Kate’s daughter Leola was also in the household; the other daughter, Dorothy, had either died or left the area, because she simply falls out of the family histories.
The four older children of W.H. and Ella Mae went their separate ways, where each experienced life’s tragedies and triumphs.
Two, Ray and K.D., married the Pelligrino sisters, Loretta and Josephine, of Walsenburg. Lynn, a preteen, remained with his father until he married a Walsenburg girl, Marian Uhl, when he was 20. W.H. and Lynn occasionally lived with Ray and his wife, but periodically moved to a coal camp for work. W.H. again returned to Ray’s home to live where apparently he fell and possibly suffered internal injuries that claimed his life Dec. 3, 1932.
The youngest son, Harold Delmar, W.H. and Kate’s son, was a standout student at Walsen School. He won the Huerfano County Oratory contest; he wrote articles and stories. He worked in the Fox Theater and for the Huerfano County News at the young age of 11, reporting on such things as lost pets. He spent a short stint as a coal miner. Somewhere along the way he earned the nickname Chips.
Chips graduated from Huerfano County High School and was sent to the New Mexico Military Institute, where he earned a degree in 1938. Later that year he was sent by ship to Hawaii and then to the South Pacific to write a travelogue about this 16,000-mile trek. He spent his entire career with the military and won many prestigious awards and honors before he retired with the rank of colonel.
Kate Woodruff was honored in 1961 after a 32-year teaching career, 1914-1946, in Huerfano County. Besides teaching, she had also supported her children by writing letters for immigrants who could not write English, and even performed janitorial duties to make ends meet. Following her retirement in 1946, she spent two years teaching in Shiprock, NM, for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She died in 1967.
After W.H.’s departure from La Veta’s Main Street in 1912, that thoroughfare lost a dynamic force. Between the sounds of music from his stock of Victrolas filling the air, the smells from his bakery ovens and the noise of his children and their friends, the family entertained and amused passersby.
Until W.H. remarried, he and his children were once again assisted by the family of his late wife, especially Ella Mae’s mother, Mary Roberts, and brother, Asa Arnold, who continually nurtured the family. Both of these were fondly remembered by W.H.’s son Chips as positive and influential presences in his young life, and he wasn’t even related by blood, only kindness.